Is it possible to receive salvation in our final hour?
In short, the answer is – yes, it is possible. All we have to receive salvation in our final hour is believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, and exercise faith in His Person to the degree that causes us to be born again. But is it probable?
Story of a condemned man
John Wesley once accompanied a man who was condemned to be hung for his crimes. He volunteered to join the man in his caged wagon to the gallows in the hopes that he might share the gospel of Christ with him in his last hour. Bystanders took turns in jeering and throwing refuse at the two as they passed by. Their shouts of condemnation rose in waves to the passing of the wagon, only to settle to murmurs again in its wake. Upon their arrival, the condemned man turned to Mr. Wesley and said that the man felt peace, and was happy with an assurance that in his final hour he was able to acquire salvation.
True stories like this are rare. And even though it is possible for anyone to receive Christ’s atonement and forgiveness in their final moments, history proves that it is not probable. There are various reasons for this such as:
- Will one have the time?
- What is the state of their mind at the time?
- What is the state of their heart at the time?
- Will the gospel be preached in truth to enable faith for salvation?
- What do they expect from salvation?
- What does it take to be saved?
1) Will one have the time?
Many find their end suddenly. Heart attack, car accident, even dying in your sleep are examples of numerous possibilities of sudden death. People often dupe themselves into believing that they will live their lives as they please and give their last moments to secure their salvation. This is an illusion. We cannot predict how we will meet our end in this life.
2) What is the state of their mind at the time?
We also cannot guarantee that we will be in a fit state of mind to receive salvation.
I remember a man with whom I had tried to share the gospel, and who fought against the truth of it vehemently. A few weeks later he was stung in the neck by a wasp. His throat swelled preventing him from breathing. He soon lost consciousness and never recovered- dying days later in his coma. Some might argue that he could have received Christ in his comatose state. We will never know. But it is standard testimony through the age of the gospel that one who obtains mercy from God will glorify God before men as a result.
Some lose their minds in old age and others are so sick that they cannot comprehend sufficiently to be able to receive the gospel of Christ and consequential salvation in their final hour.
And because we all are responsible for our own repentance, faith and salvation, it is impossible for another, or even a priest to pray to save us. Salvation can only be obtained by ourselves, and to obtain it we must be able to apprehend the gospel message sufficiently enough to fulfill its conditions, which I will cover later.
3) What is the state of their heart at the time?
Would a son who has hated and rebelled against his good father all his life suddenly, in his last hour, come to the realization of his father’s loving kindness and become a faithful son? It is not impossible for he may be able. But it is highly unlikely.
I have known of some who are so lost in self that they just cannot listen to the truth. God has handed them over to a depraved mind to continue in their sinful life (Rom 1:28). Everything about their Maker and His righteousness is offensive to them. The power of their selfishness, arrogance and pride simply will not permit them to grasp the principles of the goodness of God to obtain eternal life. It is not because He is unwilling to receive them, but simply that they will not surrender their hearts to the obedience of faith in Christ (Rom 1:5), nor love God for who He is.
God will not be mocked?
God will not be mocked(Gal 6:7). Nor will His Word return to Him void (Isa 55:11 KJV). A person who has lived his life not wanting to know God, invariably finds it impossible to want to know Him in his final hour.
There are various accounts of the last moments of illustrious men who hated the truth of God and His Christ in their lives. Their last words are pitiful, but reveal most assuredly the reality of their lost estate. Voltaire, Sir Francis Newport, Sir Thomas Scott are among those who came to see their life of falsehood but could not receive salvation in their final hour.
4) Will the gospel be preached in truth?
Using the example of Voltaire, Mr. François-Marie Arouet, (his real name); the leading factor to his intense hatred of Christians, the gospel and Christ, was the hypocrisy and false doctrine taught as God’s Word.
But what does the Bible say? For “THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU,” just as it is written (Rom 2:24). People cannot respond to the gospel in the absence of truth. And how can they receive Christ from hypocrisy?
The Word of God is true: “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Rom 10:13). However, Paul continues: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14). And it is only reasonable to understand that the preaching needs to be in truth of God’s Word and without hypocrisy.
If one does not hear the Word of God taught in truth, then on what basis can he build his faith? For faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God(Rom 10:17). Now, how likely will a person, in his final hour, have the opportunity of hearing the gospel taught in truth to obtain salvation?
A minister’s tale
One minister related an account of one of his hospital visits to me: He said that after he was “ministering” to an elderly woman in hospital, another called for him to minister to her. Apparently she had been awakened to her need of a Savior and reached out to the minister to hear the gospel. He was proud to say that he refused the woman, saying that God sent him to minister to the one only. His belief was that God chooses you for salvation or He doesn’t. (Apparently, he believed that God gave him the authority to choose on God’s behalf as minister). With such hypocrisy evident, what chance was there for that woman to receive the word of God’s love in truth, believe it, build up enough faith to receive the gospel and be saved?
For more on how to discern truth from falsehood (lies) go here.
5) What do they expect from salvation?
Most people I have talked with about salvation and the hereafter want salvation only to escape an eternity in hell. They don’t desire the benevolence of righteousness and love in heaven. If they did they would live it on earth! They expect it to be a utopia of eternal pleasures for self, but do not realize that to benefit from universal benevolence one needs to become part of it, i.e. to be whole-hearted contributors also.
Eternal life is given to those whose supreme love is God, and who desire to live serving Him as an expression of that love. There is no room for selfishness in heaven. For it would soon ruin the holy matrix of love for which all heaven’s citizens live. Heaven is a place of rejoicing, not over self-gain, but for the opportunity of living with our Savior forever. Jesus is the life of all saints and heavenly beings. He is the glory of heaven and the joy of all the righteous.
Those who live for self-gratification make themselves desert islands in the sea of love. The Bible calls them “stains and blemishes” (2Pe 2:13). They are just out of place in heaven. Those who love their lives of sin cannot receive salvation This is because being saved is the very result of being freed from the power of sin in our lives. In short, the reality of heaven, other than an escape of hell, would be intolerable to them.
6) What does it take to be saved?
Salvation is free, but it does not come easy.
God paid the infinite price of dying for the sins of the world through Christ His Son. Jesus bore the hardships of the world, shame and final death at the hands of those He came to save. Do we dare to think that a simple belief and heartless confession of His existence and testimony will save us?
For more on how to know if we are saved go here.
Salvation is not just an escape from hell
So many people look at salvation as the escape from eternal damnation. But this is not true. Salvation is the process of being set free from sin which is, in itself, the cause of our judgement. It is the transformed state of being that now lives for the love of God and not for self any more. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Christ came to free us from hell. Rather it teaches that He came to free us from sin – the very thing that was sending us to eternal damnation (Mat 1:21).
When we are set free from sin, we are transformed into new creatures. This also includes the foremost sin of rejecting God in our lives. These new creations have a mind for God. They take hold of Christ as their supreme love, and with thankful hearts for His grace, reflected in His great atonement, receive Him to dwell within them forever. This is through faith. But it is a process of hearing the truth, perceiving and then acknowledging it, and finally receiving it to the extent of causing the transformation within.
Jesus preaches to Nicodemus
Nicodemus, the learned Pharisee, came to Jesus to seek the word of truth about eternal life and how to get it. After Jesus’ discourse about being born again, it is apparent that Nicodemus still didn’t understand until much later. Understanding the gospel takes time – even when preached to by the Lord Jesus Himself! It is a dawning upon the soul that persuades us to reach out for the Person of Christ, through faith, and to have Him live and exercise His will within us.
Obtaining salvation is based on an instantaneous decision. This is not a head consent, but a heart submission to have Christ reign within. And to get to the state of making that decision involves a process.
But, what about the man on the cross?
Some people point to the man on the cross receiving salvation in his last moments (Luk 23:42-43). They say that this proves that it is not difficult to receive salvation in our final hour. But scripture shows very clearly that this did not happen as many of these advocates propose.
The factors involved in the mind of the the man on that day
- The saved man’s only chance of listening to Christ and seeing His witness was on his last day. And even though he knew of Him, he had not witnessed His teachings or experienced His righteousness. He had only hearsay to go on. However, everyone in Jerusalem knew of Jesus, and even more so on the day of His crucifixion. These included the incarcerated like the robbers being crucified alongside Jesus.
- He still had a fear of God in his final hour, as opposed to the stark depravity of the other who had abandoned all fear of God (Luk 23:40).
When one dies with a conscience one becomes extremely fearful of meeting God in the hereafter. But those who despise all attempts of their consciences to prick them towards repentance, the fear of God is absent. Some have been so depraved in their final hour, that they would even curse God with their last breath, forsaking any chance of salvation. Joseph Stalin is a good example of this and is said to have died waving a clenched fist to God.
- His agony increased his torment and frustration, and he joined the other man for a little while in hurling abuse at Christ. But as he hung there from morning to the time of his repentance, he had plenty of time to contemplate his sinfulness and just deserts. This was particularly so in contrast to the witness of Christ dying silently next to him.
- The way Christ conducted Himself in His own agony (Luk 23:34) would have invoked his faith in Jesus.
The working of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit will not move on the heart of the reprobate mind (one handed over to complete and irreversible depravity). But to those who He foreknows will receive His grace, He gives understanding (See the account of Lydia in Acts 16:14). This is undoubtedly what happened to the man who received salvation. There was a huge passage of time for him to process the truth of God’s Son. Not only did he witness Christ personally over the course of the day, but the Holy Spirit would have witnessed to him that Christ was who He claimed to be.
So to claim the example that the man on the cross received his salvation in his “final hour” as many suppose is just not true to scripture, nor is it reasonable. The Holy Spirit had obviously been at work in his heart for an elongated period of time. And no one can believe Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit (1Co 12:3).
The process of salvation
Salvation is a process of internal regeneration. Being born again of the Spirit of God requires a number of factors:
- We need to hear the truth of God’s Word in such a manner as to be able to comprehend it.
- God’s Word must be desirable to us to enable us to want to change. What we hear and understand we need to apply to our lives so that we can be transformed from within. As in the case of Lydia ( Acts 16:14), God opened her ears to understand because He knew she would be obedient to the truth she heard.
- We need to recognize the truth and realize our fallen state from God’s favor and grace. No one gets to heaven by their own merit. All of us are helpless and need to recognize our need of Christ as the only Savior.
- We need to repent of our sins, and that with remorse. We Have led a life at enmity to the wonderful, loving God who made us. And even while we sinned against Him, He continued to sustain us and give us life. True repentance can only be conducted by a contrite heart, which is not just from fear, but from godly sorrow for the life of offense to God that we have led (2Co 7:11).
- We need to be able to exercise faith sufficient to receive pardon for our sins and surrender our hearts to the Person of Christ as our personal Savior. This faith is to be real, living within us. We will then have God’s translated peace made known to us. For He gives all who truly turn to Him a consciousness of belonging. That is, an assurance that we belong to Him, and He to us. It is the time when Christ becomes the love of our lives.
The truth of the matter
All of the above does not take a moment in life; especially when one is trying to deal with the fears and pains of impending death. The truth of the matter is that if a person has denied coming to the obedience of faith and love of the Lord Jesus during his life, he is highly unlikely to be able to receive salvation in his final hour of life either.
God’s Word counsels us to come to Him when we hear Him call “Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS…”” (Heb 3:7-8). We are given salvation freely. However, it is up to us to change our hearts so that we can receive it. And this is a process that rarely takes a moment.